Even after his death in 2010, the ‘godfather of fantasy art' retains a large dedicated online following. His bold and dramatic style of art blends ultrastrong male figures with beautiful women, both in a cartoonish and idealistic manner, yet retaining a strong sense of realism to immerse the audience. Social attitudes have changed since his work’s heyday, yet it has continued to prevail. Why is it that so many people love Frank Frazetta?
When you think of fantasy and science-fiction art, Frazetta is exactly what doesn’t come to mind. Although mainly associated with high-end comic book art, the Brooklyn native was one of the most influential illustrators of the 20th century whose images graced Aussie rock band Wolfmother’s cover as well as creating the idea of Conan The Barbarian as we think of him today.
Pure primal fantasy, his ripped figures were how young boys wanted to look when they grew up. His female figures were the feminine equivalent of perfection. Ancient warriors and alluring witches existed against an atmospheric backdrop that had such a kinetic presence as to almost feel as if it were in motion - a still from a film or a mind’s attempt at imagining the most ostentatious fantasy of pure humanity.
A youthful imagination and will to power seemed to drive the young New Yorker whose prodigious talents first garnered encouragement from his grandmother who’d pay him a penny to keep at his sketches, onto school where he felt unchallenged and ultimately to art school (at the age of 8) where he felt similarly unfulfilled.
That didn’t matter to the buccaneering artist who scraped by working for comic houses before developing his own inimitable style that Guillermo del Toro acknowledged, “gave the world a new pantheon of heroes… He somehow created a second narrative layer for every book he ever illustrated.”
There’s no denying that high-fantasy is a niche with fairly little transferable interest. Still, Frazetta’s art managed to transcend his small, yet dedicated, pocket in the artistic landscape of contemporary America and work both in the art world - his Egyptian Queen painting sold for $5.4 million - and beyond in a contemporary context - his Instagram boasts 240k followers. As with anything that manages to draw this kind of attention, his art creatively communicates an essential human truth.
Striving for physical perfection and the depiction of it - amongst both gods and men - have defined how humans act since our inception. From the earliest and most rudimentary drawings up to our hyper-social lives characterised by the aesthetic norms that brands and media subsume us in.
Unbound by the shackles of reality, Frazetta allowed his mind to run wild, without ever losing sight of his vision. There were no anime-styled features, nothing so exaggerated as to be unbelievable. His art was, and still is, a perfect vision of what life could be like in a simpler time gone by.
In his paintings, we derive as much from what we can’t see as what we can. The images act as a portal to somewhere else. All food grows wild, animals roam free and people’s interactions are defined by esoteric and fantastical cultures where anything seems possible.
Painting something that captures the imagination in this way, no matter the subject matter, will always have an audience. We long for simpler times, times where lives had obvious meaning. We long to be momentarily transported from ours to something completely unlike it. This is what Frank Frazetta and his art offers the world to this day.
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